« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
THE LAST HEIR OF FERNEY-A LEGEND.
It was a wild and gloomy night when I set out from the little town of Kingscourt, on the borders of the county Cavan, to continue my journey through a part of the country of which I knew nothing, except from the information afforded me by my host at the inn. There was nothing very encouraging in his description of the ways through which I was to travel; and, had circumstances permitted, I would most willingly have yielded to the solicitations of himself and his worthy helpmate, and taken up my quarters for the night at the White Cross. The old road from Kingscourt to Carrickmacross, is a delightful illustration of the principle on which roads were formerly made, running right ahead over hill and valley, and consequently broken up by innumerable channels, each of which, on the night that I was destined to travel it, was the bed of a little brawling torrent. My horse was weary and so was I, for we had already travelled a long way; and it is no disparagement to either to acknowledge, that we were in frequent danger, and one of us, at least, in almost constant apprehension of breaking our necks over the half buried rocks with which the road was studded, or of tumbling promiscuously into some of the bog holes or quarries, which I could just perceive lay along on either side of our way. I had proceeded between two and three miles, when, as I was riding slowly, down a particularly steep and broken part of the road, I overtook a young lad who was making his way on foot, with his cap pulled over his eyes, to afford some protection against the rain that was beating sharply in his face.
"A rough night, sir," said the boy, looking up, as he heard the sound of my horse's feet; but it was evident from his toue and entire bearing, that he thought a great deal less than I did of the difficulties of our journey. As he was an active pedestrian, and as I was obliged to ride leisurely, owing to the darkness of the night, and the other circumstances I have mentioned, we kept together, and I soon found my young friend a very agreeable compagnon de voyage. There was a degree of frankness and intelligence about him, which, with his intimate acquaintance with the country, and the habits of the people, rendered his conversation, even
under such unfavourably circumstances, exceedingly agreeable. He was the son, he told me, of a gentleman who lived a few miles farther on; and he never asked me, but seemed to consider it an understood matter, that I should make his father's house my quarters for that night. As we travelled on, discoursing on the various subjects which the surrounding, though unseen, objects, suggested to my companion, we came to a stream that ran right across the road, and which being swollen by the late heavy rains, presented, in my mind, rather a formidable obstruction to a traveller on foot. I could observe, that at one side of the road there was a plank thrown across it; but the boy would neither take the trouble of going so far out of his way, nor of mounting my horse, as I had already frequently requested him to do; but walked on knee-deep through the water, perfectly insensible to any inconvenience.
"It was here," he said, when we had crossed the stream, "that M'Mahon killed the Sasenagh."
"Killed a Sasenagh !" said I: "that was ill done of M'Mahon. What did he kill him for ?"
"Why, sir," replied the lad, "he couldn't very well help it. It was a disagreeable alternative; but if you like, I'll tell you all about it when we get home-it's too long a story to tell you now; particularly," he added, as the rain is coming on worse than ever, I'm afraid."
And so it was. It had subsided a little for a time, but was now coming down in a wild and heavy torrent. The boy urged me to spur on quickly, as the road was, in this part, tolerably level, and there was a public-house about a quarter of a mile farther on, where he proposed to overtake me. But I did not think that this would have been very civil on my part; and besides, a little rain more or less, was a matter of small importance in our drenched condition. We soon reached the public-house, however. My companion led the way, and I followed him into the large hospitable-looking kitchen, where we found a number of countrymen sitting round a splendid turf fire, and enjoying a warm drop, which certainly the severity of the night seemed to warrant.
"Come, boys!-out of the way with
Why, then, Masther George," said one of the men, when we were seated round the fire, with all the "appliances and means" of comfort, "were you far on your thravels to-night."
"Not very," replied the boy drily. Away by Magheroon side, I dar say?" rejoined the other with roguish gravity.
The boy coloured, and casting an angry glance at the man, addressed himself to me, as if to conceal the embarrassment which this observation evidently excited. I could not help smiling as well as the rest, for I saw at once the nature of the allusion; and then I could hardly help feeling a little sad, when I thought how soon a few years would have passed away, and how that boy's heart and imagination might be altered then. It was only fair, however, to turn the conversation from so delicate a subject; and as the rain was still pouring down in torrents, I reminded him of his promise, and requested him to favour me with the history to which he alluded as we crossed the stream.
"Oh, then," said the man who had spoken before, "it's himself can do that in style, your honour; he can tell you that surely, and all the ould stories that ever happened from the reign of Oliver Cromwell, or a thousand years afore it."
"And no wondher for him," said another, "sure isn't it the height of his glory to be sittin' over the brusna, discoursin' some ould wife or another the length of a winter's night."
"Tut!" said the former, "he has more stories, ten to one, than all the ould wives in Ferney. Bedad, myself thinks he make the half of them out of his own head."
"Well, boys, have you done?" said the lad, who had sat very patiently listening to this dissertation on his legendary acquirements. "I'm sure the gentleman must be highly entertained by your discourse."
After some bantering and wit on the part of the men, who seemed to treat my young friend with a sort of respectful familiarity, he commeneed his narrative.
"You must know, sir-or you do know, I mean, that one Hugh Roe M'Mahon succeeded his brother, as
Chief of Ferney, at the time that Elizabeth was queen of England. He was not only the natural heir of his brother, but he had a grant of the county from the English government; for the late chieftain had surrendered it to the queen, and been reinstated in his honours and possessions under the broad scal of England. Well, sir, on his brother's death, this Hugh thought he should go up to Dublin to have his title recognized; and so he did; but it turned out to be the most unfortunate journey he ever made, except indeed the journey back. He got plenty of hard usage at the castle, and very little satisfaction of any kind, till at last the Lord Deputy, one Sir William Fitzwilliams, spoke him wonderful fair, and said he would go down with him to Monaghan, and settle him in his inheritance himself. Of course, M'Mahon thought all was right, and expressed his great obligations to Sir William, and off they set to Monaghan; when the first thing the worthy Lord Deputy did, was to clap the baron into irons; and the next thing, after a sort of a sham trial, was to hang him up like a dog before his own door. That was the end of the M'Mahons, as chieftains and men of power. Their country was confiscated of course, and their descendants left to wander the world, or depend, as it might be, on the clarity of their own vassals. However, sir, it happened that after the wars of the Revolution, as they call it, there was a widow lady living in an humble little cottage, but most beautifully situated, just about a mile, I think, from were we are sitting at this moment. Her husband was the lineal descendant of the chieftains of Monaghan, but he had been killed in the wars, fighting for King James, and he left this lady and one boy poorly enough provided, as you may suppose.
The old castle of the M'Mahons was at this time in the possession of one Colonel Vaughan, who before the revolution had been the brother officer and most intimate friend of Major M'Mahon; indeed they were so attached to each other, that there was a mutual understanding between them, that Vaughan's eldest daughter should become the wife of young M'Mahon. However, when the war broke out, Vaughan sided with the English party; but still, when all was over, he entertained a warm regard for the memory of his friend; and though the obstacles to the contem
plated marriage seemed almost insurmountable, for young M'Mahon was of course a Catholic, and under the ban of the new laws; yet the colonel had him constantly at his house, and was even in hopes that he could, in the course of time, be induced to change his religion for the sake of the lady, and of the property of his ancestors, which he would in that case inherit with her. Vaughan had another daughter, and that was his whole family; but as they grew up there was not their equal for beauty in the whole country round. The eldest, however, was by far the loveliest. She had the heavenliest eyes, they say, that ever shone in a woman's head; and when poor M'Mahon would see her moving through the lighted ball-room, with her dark hair rolling down in rich waves like, to her waist, à sadness used to come over him, when he would think, that notwithstanding her own love and her father's regard for him, it was little better than a wild dream to think that he could ever possess the hand of his beautiful Sassenagh.
Well, sir, there was a cousin of M'Mahon's, one Neal Nugent, and from the time they were both children they were more like brothers than cousins, though their dispositions were, in all respects, the very opposite. One was a proud, high-spirited fellow, loyal in his heart to the cause and religion for which his father perished; but Nugent, though he was brave, too, thought it a hardship to give up every thing for the sake of religion, and be shut out from all chance of gaining either riches or honour, because he happened to be born a Catholic. He often hinted to M'Mahon, that he'd be a fool to forfeit such a splendid alliance for any scruples he might have about the affairs of the other world; and his advice might have been more dangerous, only it was plain that it was for her rich domains and not for the lady herself that he would have had his cousin sell his faith. He was an ambitious young fellow, this Nugent; and he was a clever fellow, too; and so, when he was about eighteen years of age, he told his cousin that he was determined he would be a slave no longer, wasting away his youth and intellect among the hills of Ferney, but that he would make a name for himself in the world, and become one of the lords of the land, where he was now trampled on and despised. The end of it was, sir, that he turned Pro
testant, got into the army, and, sure enough, he did seem in the way of rising fast to honour and distinction. In the meantime, M'Mahon was still received at the castle in the character of Ellen's lover; but their intercourse became every day more painful and embarrassing. The colonel still entertained the hope that the young baron, as he called him, would yield to what might be almost considered as the necessity of his fate, and remove the only obstacle that seemed to stand in the way of his worldly happiness; but Ellen knew him better, and she knew that not even for her would he abandon the religion of his fathers. At last the colonel thought it was time that there should be a full understanding on the subject; and one day he asked M'Mahon when he intended to conform, for that he saw no necessity for delaying the marriage any longer. This was a severe trial to poor M Mahon but he was prepared for it, and he told the colonel that conform he never would; and that if he must relinquish the hand of his daughter, he hoped he might soon enjoy in another world the happiness that was lost to him for ever in this. The colonel was vexed and disappointed; but he had to acknowledge, that though he had deceived himself, M'Mahon had never deceived him, nor by word or act given encouragement to the false hopes he had entertained; and though he was as proud a man as ever buckled on a sword, the tears fell from his eyes, as he wrung the hand of his young friend, and saw him ride out from the castle, which he never entered but once again. It was a lonely castle now to poor Ellen Vaughan. Her lover had often told her that it must come to this; for that although he was suffered to live in peace, he was, in all other respects, little better than a common outlaw; but yet, as they had known and loved each other so long, ever since their childhood in fact, he could never bear the thought of losing her; and he sometimes tried to persuade himself, that by entering into a foreign service, he might attain such rank as would compensate in some degree for the loss of her inheritance, which she must have sacrificed by marrying him. It was this vague hope that prevented him breaking off their intercourse long before; and he might have carried it into effect, only that his mother had no friend in the world but himself, and he could not, of course, abandon her
and now it was too late to think of entering on such a career. It was not long after this last interview with Colonel Vaughan, that Nugent happened to be quartered down in this part of the country. He had now been three or four years in the army, and a fine looking young fellow he was; but he was one that didn't care very much for old times or old friendships; and when he found that it was all over between Ellen and his cousin, he thought he might do worse than propose for the heiress himself. He was now in high favour with the government, and had every prospect of rising in the world, so after a while the colonel consented to give him his daughter; and while the poor girl's heart was regularly breaking, she had to receive the addresses of a new lover, who knew at the time how she was devoted to his rival. At last the day was fixed for their marriage. Ellen and M'Mahon had never met from the day, of his fatal interview with her father; and when they parted that day it was with the firm belief that they would never meet again. The night before the morning appointed for her unhappy marriage, the poor lady was sitting alone in her chamber. It was just such a night as this, wild and desolate; and there poor Ellen was sitting in a kind of abstracted reverie, "looking with idle grief on her white hands," when the door gently opened, and lifting her eyes, she saw her lover, wan and ghastly as a ghost, standing before her. She never shrieked nor spoke, but her lips turned as pale as ashes, and she kept gazing at him with her large dark eres, as if she thought it really was his ghost come to claim her promised hand. At last M'Mahon came forward, and told her he was come to take his leave of her for ever; but then as they talked of old times, and thought of the future, all their feelings yielded to the love they had cherished through life; and Ellen that night left her father's castle to wander with her lover wherever fate might guide them. M'Mahon had left his horse in a grove at a little distance; and the servant, by whose means he had gained admission, joined them there in a few minutes with the lady's palfrey; and off they rode through storm and darkness as hard as their horses could lay a hoof to the earth. Their flight, however, was almost immediately discovered. Instantly the retainers were up and
mounted, scouring the country in all directions; for no information could be procured as to the course which the fugitives had taken. It happened that Nugent was at the castle at the very time, arranging some matters with the colonel; and he had with him a very intimate friend who was to be his groomsman on the following morningan officer of high family, and connected with some of the greatest people in the country. He and Nugent were, of course, among the most active of the pursuers, but they took different routes; and as this gentleman was riding along the wild road that you and I travelled to-night, he heard the tramp of horses a little way before him; and so he pressed on, and got almost within pistol-shot of M'Mahon, as he and the lady reached the stream you remember crossing. He had taken the precaution of slinging a buglehorn across his shoulder, and when he first got sight of the fugitives he winded this to collect any of the pursuers that might be within hearing; and as he gained on M'Mahon, he called on him to surrender, or that he would fire. There was no time for parley then. They could hear at a distance the tramp of steeds dashing along the road. M Mahon was on one side of the stream, and his pursuer just entering it on the other, when he wheeled round, and drawing a pistol from his belt, shot him dead. On M Mahon and his lady rode; where they rode to none could ever tell, for he knew all the wild by-ways of the country, and he soon had his beautiful prize safe beyond the reach of his enemies. It was a night of hard riding; and when the horsemen gathered in before dawn of day to the castle, it was with the sorrowful tidings of the lady's loss and the death of a young and honourable gentleman. The circumstances of that night broke the old Colonel's heart. He never heard more of the being he had loved and prized above the world, nor of the unfortunate companion of her fate. M'Mahon was outlawed of course; but though all possible measures were taken for his discovery and apprehension, both by the relatives of the young officer and the Sassenagh gentlemen of the country generally, who felt highly indignant at the idea of a papist having the audacity to carry off a lady of rank and fortune, their efforts were all unavailing; no trace could be discovered of the fate or fortunes of
that ill-starred pair. Vaughan, as I told you, had another daughter, younger than Ellen; and though without any of the romance or high sentiment of her sister, she was a girl of very singular beauty. She was now, of course, the heiress of her father's possessions; and in a little time Nugent, as was natural, transferred his affections to her; and in a little time more they were married; and soon after that the colonel died, and Nugent became lord of that noble castle, while the lady that should have graced it, had no home but the wild retreat of the outlaw. Nugent now became a man of great power and influence in the country. He was appointed to the commission of the peace, and made himself very active in the suppression of those rapparee bands that were at this time very formidable, and in some parts kept the gentlemen of the country in a state of constant apprehension and alarm. After some years the country became more tranquil; and these marauders disappeared at last altogether. However, sir, death's the end of all things. Pulsat æquo pede-as Horace says. In the course of time Nugent was gathered to his fathers; and his son occupied the same position in the country, and earned for himself the same character of a useful and energetic magistrate, which his father had formerly maintained. He had abundant opportunities for displaying his zeal. About fifty years after the occurrences I have told you of, there was a robber in this country, one of the most daring and celebrated characters that ever took to the hills. He was formidable not only from his own extraordinary prowess and the number of his band, but from the great attachment which the people entertained for him, and the protection which it was supposed they frequently afforded him. You know, sir, that in those wild times, and such a wild country as this was then, a robber might well be a very popular character, and M'Mahon was particularly so; for he acted here as a sort of self-constituted arbiter be tween the rich and poor; and though he made sad havock among the possessions of the great, he saved many a wretched family from want and ruin. This country, you must know, is full of M Mahons, and the gentry knew nothing of this man but that he was a very notorious and desperate outlaw; but there was a secret concerning him among the people, and
it is probable that their knowledge of his origin and history increased the influence he possessed among them. There is a wild district off to the west here, which was at this time very thinly inhabited. You might travel for miles and miles without meeting a house or an acre of cultivated land; and it was at a place called The Rocks, a beautiful spot it is, in the heart of this wild region, that the banditti had their retreat. It was a regular little community. The robbers lived there, with their wives and children, beyond the reach of the law, and enjoying an abundance of every thing the country could afford. They drove the cattle, levied money, and did every thing, in fact, as if their leader's family were still the lords of Ferney. Nugent was one of those that suffered most from their incursions and as active as he was for their suppression, and no man could be more so, they baffled him in all his efforts. M'Mahon had constant intelligence of whatever concerned his safety. He was always aware of Nugent's movements, and seemed to care as little for him and his dragoons as he would for a party of village-school boys. They went on in this way for years. M.Mahon, in fact, held the country; and with the trifling aid which could be afforded them by government, the magistrates found it was impossible to think of dislodging him. They agreed, at last, that they had nothing for it, but to try and make some sort of terms with him, and prevent him, by fair means, from harrying the country in the way he was doing. Now, sir, this is the truth, I assure you, though you seem to doubt it."
I certainly did suspect my historian of romancing a little; but I was afterwards convinced, from other sources, of the accuracy of his narrative, in this point at least, which being of comparatively recent occurrence, could have none of the mists of tradition about it.
Well, sir," he continued, "Nugent managed, some how or other, to communicate with the outlaw, and gave him his word of honour, that if he would afford him an interview at any convenient time and place, no advantage should be taken, but that he should be suffered to come and go in perfect safety. M'Mahon, who was getting old, and probably weary of the wild life he had led, agreed to this proposal, but declined appointing either time or place; for, I suppose, he thought it would be only prudent not to rely